GWMHL

Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 2)

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2022 at 10:48 am

Here’s the fourth and final part of our GWMHL 2022-23 season preview. Check the rest out here: Plante (part 1), Plante (part 2), and Sawchuk (part 1).

Ice Harbor Storm

Last season: 45-30-7 (lost in first round)
Draft picks: D Scott Perunovich (18), F Bobby Brink (40), F Nicholas Abruzzese (62), D Kyle Capobianco (83)
Notable additions: D Caleb Jones
Notable subtractions: F Victor Rask, F Sam Carrick, D Kyle Capobianco, G Jonathan Bernier
Analysis: The Storm had a very good year in a stacked conference, making the playoffs and taking a strong Farmington squad to seven games before being eliminated. They were maybe the league’s most entertaining team, too, scoring the most goals by a comfortable margin while also allowing a ton of goals against. But even if young netminders Carter Hart and Spencer Knight remain enigmas, the team will likely give a lot of starts to Linus Ullmark, and he should be capable of stopping more rubber this year. Management made few offseason changes and seems confident that Ullmark will be the X factor that can take them to the next level. The Storm have an incredibly deep forward group, with plenty of big scorers — Jonathan Huberdeau, Matthew Tkachuk, Alex DeBrincat, and on and on — held together by strong two-way performers like Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Backlund. The team lacks high-end left-handed defensemen and likely too much will be asked of Nick Leddy and Mike Matheson, but that’s nothing new. If the team can get better goaltending, another playoff appearance is likely.
Outlook: Playoffs

Portland WinterHawks

Last season: 33-41-8 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: F Dawson Mercer (8), D JJ Moser (30), F Jonathan Dahlen (52), Jacob Middleton (73)
Notable additions: F Jackson Cates, F Dawson Mercer, F Jonathan Dahlen, D JJ Moser, D Jacob Middleton
Notable subtractions: F Carl Hagelin, F Steven Lorentz, D Robert Hagg, D Michal Kempny, D Brendan Guhle
Analysis: They haven’t made any splashy trades so the WinterHawks have flown under the radar, but while you weren’t paying attention they assembled a mighty intriguing group of forwards to complement its two bonafide stars, Artemi Panarin and Brad Marchand. Jesper Bratt and Andrei Svechnikov are ready for the next level, Nick Suzuki and Pierre-Luc Duboic look good up the middle, and Ryan Hartman may have some untapped offense up his sleeve. Cam Talbot and Vitek Vanecek in goal? Neither is a world-beater, but they should be good enough. Now that the rest of the pieces are in place, though, it shines a light on Portland’s most glaring weakness, one the team has stubbornly resisted addressing: a blueline full of defensively responsible defenders but utterly lacking in offensive-minded puck-movers. Who’s running the powerplay? Justin Schultz? Brenden Dillon? Mario Ferraro? Rookie JJ Moser? Someone’s going to need to step up in a big way or the offense will die every time the puck lands on a defenseman’s stick. Apart from that, this looks like a playoff-calibre team on paper.
Outlook: Bubble

San Jose Hosers

Last season: 36-38-8 (missed playoffs)
Draft picks: D Thomas Harley (33), F Adam Beckman (55), D Artemi Kniazev (60), F Riley Damiani (76)
Notable additions: F Nazem Kadri, F Jeff Skinner, F Mats Zuccarello, F Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Notable subtractions: F Kevin Labanc, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Chris Tierney, F Tyler Bozak, D Gustav Lindstrom, G Laurent Brossoit, G Jaroslav Halak
Analysis: After looking playoff-ready for a couple of seasons but underperforming when it counts, the Hosers finally broke through, squeezing into the final berth in an expanded playoff field. They made it 7 games against Vancouver before being sent home, but it was a positive first step and enough motivation for management to take a big offseason swing for the fences: a monster trade that saw the Hosers part ways with two first rounders to acquire veteran forwards Nazem Kadri, Mats Zuccarello, and Jeff Skinner. All three will be key to the Hosers’ fortunes in the absence of Jack Eichel, who’s expected to miss more than half the season to injury. Along with Mitch Marner, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Gabriel Landeskog, they form a wonderful core up front. The defense, led by Charlie McAvoy and Cam Fowler, is certainly deep enough for the postseason too. But the biggest factor, the one that would make anything less than a playoff berth a supreme disappointment, is goalie Igor Shesterkin, now unquestionably the team’s starter and clearly capable of putting the team on his back. The pieces are in place now. Failure is not an option. If this San Jose team had a longer playoff pedigree, they might even be considered Atkinson Cup contenders.
Outlook: Playoffs

Vancouver Night Train

Last season: 53-23-6 (lost in third round)
Draft picks: F Lukas Reichel (20), D Philip Broberg (34), F Samuel Fagemo (53), G Justus Annunen (64), F Egor Sokolov (85)
Notable additions: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Philip Broberg, G Spencer Martin
Notable subtractions: F Ryan Poehling, F Luke Kunin, F Kyle Palmieri, F Klim Kostin, D Shea Weber, G Michael Hutchinson
Analysis: The Night Train got career seasons from Connor Brown (with a mind-boggling 70 goals) and Mark Stone (whose 80 assists topped the league), who formed a dominant first line with Elias Lindholm and led the team to a 53-win season. It was still only good enough for third in the highly competitive Sawchuk, but Vancouver also had a strong postseason, bouncing San Jose and West Virginia before falling to Adirondack in a tight game 7 in the conference final. Now, a major correction is looming. Stone is hurt. Brown will inevitably fall back to earth. Even if Lindholm and Mat Barzal can maintain a high level of play, and Jordan Kyrou and Andrew Mangiapane pick up some offensive slack, there’s no replacement for that Stone/Brown magic, no more hotshot rookies in the pipeline, and the team just isn’t as deep as it was last season. That said, the defense — featuring by Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore, two-way Mackenzie Weegar, and defensive specialist Adam Pelech — stacks up well against the rest of the conference, even with the retirement of career Night Train Shea Weber, and Tristan Jarry has the ability to turn in a strong season under the right circumstances. But in the Sawchuk meat grinder, that’s probably not enough unless a couple of teams fall on their faces.
Outlook: Bubble

West Virginia River Rats

Last season: 54-23-5 (lost in second round)
Draft picks: F Gabriel Fortier (72), F Jake Leschyshyn (86)
Notable additions: F Jonathan Toews, F Sean Couturier, D Morgan Rielly, D Ryan Ellis, G Cayden Primeau
Notable subtractions: F Jason Spezza, F Travis Zajac, F Gabriel Vilardi, F Alexandre Texier, F Jansen Harkins, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, G Brian Elliott
Analysis: The River Rats seemed destined for a finals appearance after a great regular season but couldn’t make it past Vancouver in the second round. They responded by loading up their stacked roster even more, and on paper they’re clearly one of the league’s best teams. Jonathan Toews, acquired from Delta, isn’t the force he once was, but he’ll be a boon to the Rats’ bottom six, and the surprise pickup of Morgan Rielly late in the offseason gives them an offensive weapon on a blueline that already boasted Dougie Hamilton and Jakob Chychrun, allowing workhorse Jaccob Slavin to forcus on defense. Pavel Francouz has returned from injury to back up Juuse Saros, and that’s a big improvement over Brian Elliott. But this team lives or dies on the strength of its forwards, and what a group that is: Leon Draisaitl, Jake Guentzel, Sebastian Aho, the ageless Joe Pavelski, Patrik Laine, Brock Nelson, Nikolaj Ehlers… and now Jack Hughes poised to take a big step forward? Look out. This is the kind of roster that should strike fear in the heart of any opponent, even fellow contenders.
Outlook: Contender

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